IBM Verse
A screenshot of IBM Verse, our web-based email and calendaring software.
One of my areas of focus as a Developer Advocate here at IBM Cloud Data Services is Offline First, an approach to building web and mobile apps in which the app is designed to work in the most resource-constrained environment first and then progressive enhancement is applied to take advantage of network connectivity when available. I spoke with Yingle Jia (Senior Software Engineer, IBM Verse and IBM Notes) about the offline capabilities recently added to IBM Verse, our web-based business email and calendaring software.

Bradley: Verse is IBM’s new web-based email client. For those who aren’t familiar with Verse, can you give us a brief overview of Verse and why it was created?

Yingle: Yes, sure. IBM Verse is a cloud-based business email and calendaring offering. It is email reimagined for a new way to work, not just another email client. From the beginning, IBM Verse is created to employ innovative user-centric design, advanced search and social analytics to help users quickly find and focus on things important to them.

Bradley: My manager was recently using Verse and he noticed the new “offline settings” section. What sorts of offline capabilities does Verse have? For example, can I read and respond to email while offline?

Yingle: Thanks for trying! We designed Verse offline to be a complement to the Verse online experience. For the initial offline GA, we support synchronization of 7 days of mail in all folders, 7 days of preceding calendar events, and 30 days of future events. Also, common email operations like reading, composing, saving, sending email, moving to folder, etc are supported while offline. Security is important for business email and we do encrypt the offline storage. Moreover, we are committed to continuously improve the offline capabilities and user experience over time.

Bradley: What was the motivation for building offline capabilities into Verse?

Yingle: The web-based approach allows us to quickly roll out new features and bug fixes, however, our customers, including IBM itself, made it clear that they need to be able to access Verse while offline, for example when on an air plane or at a customer site where network access is not available or limited. Also, caching data locally can greatly improve user experience, even when the user is connected. Caching is important for cloud-based offerings!

Bradley: What browser features were required to make Verse work offline? Have you encountered any browser compatibility issues?

Yingle: Verse offline is built upon standard web technologies and we support all major browsers which are supported for online. Technologies being used include IndexedDB, WebCrypto, Web Workers, etc. We did encounter a couple of browser compatibility issues, and reported defects to the corresponding browser vendors. Of course, we tried hard to avoid browser specific code, and the majority (>99%) of our code is optimized to run well in all major browsers.

Bradley: Were the offline capabilities in Verse added from the beginning? If not, were there any challenges with adding offline capabilities after the initial development of Verse?

Yingle: We officially started offline support work after the initial Verse GA. MVC design pattern is heavily used in Verse from the beginning, which makes it easier to add offline support without major architectural changes. Of course, it is still a big challenge to add offline support, since we cannot stop the agile development of Verse to add offline support, and we have a dozen teams working on Verse development!

Bradley: I recently spoke with the development team at The Weather Company (a recent IBM acquisition). They have put significant efforts into developing a Progressive Web App. Have you considered taking a Progressive Web App approach to Verse?

Yingle: Yes, definitely, we are deeply interested in leveraging new web technologies and programming patterns to improve Verse!

A big thanks to Yingle Jia for taking the time to talk with me about the offline capabilities in IBM Verse! If you’re interested in getting more involved in the Offline First movement then please consider joining us for Offline Camp, a three day retreat (June 24-27th) in the Catskill Mountains. Offline Camp will be a small gathering of about 30 developers, designers, and others interested in furthering the Offline First movement.

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